Leaving incandescent pathway or exterior lights on all night can waste energy and money. Fortunately, today we have many options to help illuminate the outside of our homes–increasing security, visibility, and nighttime curb appeal–while still keeping our energy usage and budget in check.
Solar-powered and low-voltage systems are perfect ways to light up paths, patios, decks, and garden spaces.
Low-voltage lighting kits come with a power pack, lamps, and cables. An individual fixture can typically output anywhere from 4 watts to 50 watts of illumination. To install these systems, you simply run the cables in trenches and then position lamps where you need them, inserting them into the ground on stakes. They attach to the cable with connectors, which are included in your kit.
The power pack, which often comes with a built-in timer, is plugged into a standard outdoor outlet. Low-voltage lighting usually uses halogen or LED bulbs; LED technology consumes as much as 80 percent less energy than standard incandescent bulbs.
Solar outdoor lights have photovoltaic cells that convert energy from the sun into illumination at night. These have a reputation for being a bit dimmer than low-voltage systems, but some manufacturers have claimed improved performance in recent years (there are even some who offer solar-powered security lights).
Solar garden lights cannot be beat for ease of use–simply stick them in the ground in a sunny location during daylight hours, and let them power up. Do note that it may take a few days for them to drink in enough sunlight and store up enough energy to achieve their maximum output. For more, see Solar Outdoor Lighting.
If a more intense illumination source is what you need–such as a spotlight or floodlight–consider fluorescent or high-intensity discharge (HID) lights. Just as with interior fluorescents, exterior fluorescent lights use considerably less energy than their incandescent counterparts and have longer life spans.
Likewise, HID lamps turn a small amount of power into a large amount of illumination. These use gases–metal halide, sodium, and mercury vapor–to radiate light. Lights equipped with sensors are another way to save energy–these power on only when you need them and turn off when you don’t.
Lights with motion detectors turn on when they sense movement. When placed where potential intruders are most likely to pass, these can greatly enhance security. You can install a new motion-sensor light fixture (see Motion-Sensor Light Switches) or add a motion detector to an existing light (lamp-base motion sensors, which simply screw into your fixture, are the easiest to install).
Daylight sensors have a photocell that detects the presence or absence of light, automatically turning your lamp on at night and off during the day. You can purchase a light fixture with a daylight sensor built in or install a sensor that will control existing lights.
Finally, outdoor lighting timers, made with a heavy-duty metal casing to protect the unit from the elements, let you program lights or other outdoor electrical appliances to turn on and off automatically. There are also units that combine sensor and timer technologies to give you the greatest flexibility in control.